3D Dot Game Heroes, the title we’ve been harping on about for weeks and weeks, with previews, videos and interviews aplenty, goes up against our stringent reviews process, put through its paces to be given the definitive Midlife Gamer verdict.
Let’s make one thing very clear from the get-go, the game is very much indebted to the Legend of Zelda series, especially the pre-Ocarina entries. For those that may have missed playing that great Nintendo franchise, 8 bit / 16 bit Zelda sees you guide your character through screen after screen of fertile greenery, arid desert, scorched earth and cursed dungeon, fending off a diverse selection of enemies, collecting essential items and defeating large bosses. 3DDGH follows this formula to the letter, even going so far as to mimic many of the traditional Zelda tropes; bottles, hook shots, fairy side kicks, and a sword that is more powerful with your main character at full health.
To say that this adventure borrows heavily from Miyamoto’s other finest hour would be an understatement, 3DDGH downright steals many of its core elements from that illustrious franchise, though to be fair, it never claims not to be doing so. You see, this latest release from SouthPeak Games is a celebration of properties such as Zelda and RPG contemporaries Final Fantasy, Dragon Warrior etc. Like Half Minute Hero before it, it revels in the game design of the era, the ludicrous nature of Phoenix Downs, the blind faith of a hero on a quest, the absurd nature of breaking into someone’s house and smashing up all their pottery. The love, and it is very clearly love, that the developers Silicon Studio have for the countless muses upon which 3DDGH is based, means that references to gaming’s heritage are always good natured and presented with a knowingly wry humour.
They haven’t rested on their laurels when it comes to design however, this is a thoroughly modern video game through and through. Using the nearly two decade old Zelda mechanics as their foundation, the studio understand that not everything from that era’s conventions still work, and subsequently focus on what does and most importantly improve upon what doesn’t. Goals, for instance, are clearer here, there are few moments where you’ll be truly stuck with no idea of where to head to continue the main quest, with an intuitive map on hand at all times and NPCs with some very helpful hints. Further improvement over the classics come in the form of a more lenient difficulty that isn’t nearly as punishing as the classics of yesteryear. Maps are well crafted with hundreds of sights to see and seemingly thousands of hidden places to explore, filled with genuinely entertaining mini-games to break up the action. Dialogue too is better, it’s laugh out loud in places, with cheeky nods and winks to the player no doubt familiar with the phrase ‘it’s dangerous to go alone’. Multiple camera angles make an appearance ensuring you’ll never miss an item because of a fixed view point and the combat is finely tuned. There’s a host of collections to fill, a speed increasing optional install for shorter play sessions, an incredibly flexible character creator, stunning music and many, many more advancements that take 3DDGH out of the realms of mere forgery and into the realms of loving tribute.
The visuals are immediately stunning and the engine running them is a fairly powerful bit of kit, with some very fine moments of delicate lighting and a crisp rendering of the consistently colourful world presented within. Traversing this world is a breeze, with both analogue and (praise the lord) digital input options available. If you’re a gamer that remembers playing the originals on which this is based, reverting to the D-pad to play the game will bring a real smile to your face!
3D Dot Game Heroes is excellent at invoking fond memories without ever falling back on nostalgia and simultaneously provides the kind of game experience you remember having, even if it’s not necessarily the experience you actually had, as it takes everything we’ve learned about game design and reworks the classic into something both old and new. There are still moments where the game isn’t entirely successful in updating the formula for a modern audience, there are certain leaps of logic that are a little obscure, and the exploration aspect will frustrate you on a few occasions, but these are fairly minor criticisms overall.
I can confidently say that this is, without doubt, the best Legend Of Zelda style game since Link To The Past was released over 18 years ago. It’s a wonderful title that is the absolute pinnacle of the themes and aspirations of this current retro revival. This is very much a gamers game, and one that every Midlife Gamer should experience. 3D Dot Game Heroes is the closest we’ve ever come to giving out a ten out of ten with the MLG rating system and only misses out because it doesn’t, per se, fundamentally change modern game design. What it does do, is provide one of the most refreshing and entertaining experiences of this generation by celebrating and reinvigorating the ones that have gone before it. A true future classic.
MLG Rating: 9/10
Platform: Playstation 3 Release Date: 14/05/2010
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a physical copy of 3D Dot Game Heroes for review purposes by the publisher. The title was reviewed over the course of five days on a Playstation 3. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.